Underground big wave charger Rob Fowlie means business this winter. What kind of business you ask? Well, the kind that involves being present for every major swell at both home and abroad, poised to throw the gauntlet at two very different waves — The Cribbar and Nazare. Wherever is on, Rob's there. But with the latter, there is one clear goal — ride the first 100ft wave all in the name of his home, the UK’s Cornwall.
What's more, in order to help give him the ultimate season and potentially achieve his goal, Rob and his team; tow-in and coms Jeff Scott, water safety Jules Chenoweth and photographer Ben Hartley have set up base in the marina at Nazare. But not before the… let’s say… eventful 1,200 mile journey from the UK south west down through France, Spain and into Portugal — more on that in a bit though.
Rob training out at Nazare. Vid from Johannes Hertel.
“We’re all broken today,” said Jules, after arriving in Nazare and having their first session out there. “Completely mind blown by what we’ve all just survived together.
"When you’re coming back round the headland at Praia do Norte, it feels like you’re coming back from war.
"For us, this is more than just a journey to Nazare and back home again. This is going to be the start of multiple trips over the whole winter. We’ve got everything setup down here and next time we can just fly over and everything is already there.
"We’re just a bunch of guys from Cornwall. We want to get that credibility and fly the flag for Cornwall at the same time."
LIVE CAM: Nazare
Preparation for this trip began earlier in the summer, and after deciding to make a statement by being there for the first X-medium swell of the season (yeah, this counts as medium for Nazare), the team were on standby until seeing a solid pulse heading its way, a NW swell peaking at 9ft@14 seconds over Sunday, October 16. So, all systems go!
“We set off for the ferry on October 13 and drove from St Mawes to Plymouth, meeting half the team there,” said photographer Ben Hartley, who documented the journey, door-to-door. "Once there, we loaded up the skis onto the ferry for a 9-hour overnight journey to Roscoff, France.
"While driving through France the next day we encountered the problem of trying to get fuel, as there is currently limited diesel in France, and we had a 1000 mile journey to go. We stopped at every petrol station and did what we could to make it through France, and fortunately, we did.
"After a full day of driving we stayed at the legend, Carwyn Williams' surf house in Hossegor. We exchanged stories and discussed our plans for the trip with him.
"First thing in the morning we started our second day of driving in order to get into Nazare the same day and get our first surf session in.
"We managed to get there in good time, making it through the Spanish and Portugal border within 10 hours.
"Before even getting to our place to stay for the week, Rob, Jules and Jeff hopped in at Nazare for the first tow session.
"With conditions looking promising for the next few days this was a good first session to get their bearings for the break and positioning for bigger days."
"Day one was all about dusting off the cobwebs and getting Jules’ eyes open about what its like out there," said Rob. "We wanted to get everything honed in and dialled for when the swell ramped up so we were ready.
"It was smaller in the morning on day two so that was a good warm up as well. We came back knowing the swell was going to ramp up in the evening and it did massively.
"I said on the way there that I want to try and get an epic barrel at Nazare because a lot of the time it just clamps. I want to get as deep as I can on the biggest, cleanest wave. Then I noticed the huge lefts coming through.
"I wanted to get one. I was thinking how far do I want to get on the inside of this. The world opened up from underneath me when I got to the bottom of that one, it was like a mountain rising out from underneath the ocean. Everyone thought I was gone!"
"The afternoon came round, and we got a call from Cotty that there were some monsters coming through. We could even hear them from the marina," said Ben.
And what's it like being up close to the wave for the first time? "Seeing the 40ft+ faces for the first time was terrifying and mind blowing at the same time. Rob and Jeff on ski one quickly got a grip for the hectic conditions. And towed into a monster wave, It was awesome seeing rob charging down the face of it towards Cotty and I."
"It was ginormous and we were the only team out." says Jules.
"Later on when we were around town we had people come up to us and say 'hey, were you the guys out there earlier?' I really think we’ve made a statement by getting here when we did and just getting on with it."
"After that long day, we all went for a curry with Andrew Cotty and Justine White to end the trip, telling stories of experiences in and out of the waves," said Ben.
"Our aim is to be the best tow team in the world," says Rob.
"We’d love to get that 100ft wave milestone and bring it bag for Great Britain. We've even got a Cornish flag with us!"